Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Men In Black: When FedEx isn't an option

Here's an article on the guys whose day job is transporting nuclear weapons from place to place:
On a ribbon of asphalt in the Nevada desert, a strange convoy of odd vehicles with darkened windows slides along in relative obscurity. There are no signs or placards to suggest who these guys are, but the tell-tale license plate reads Federal Government.

At a weigh station near Laughlin, the convoy pulled over to evaluate who we were, so we waited too. As we did, more of the mystery trucks zipped past.

Since May, when an unknown object crashed near the Colorado River south of Needles, residents have reported seeing so-called Men in Black in unmarked vehicles.

"Had seen them in the area over the last couple of months and sometimes many of them, not just one or two," said Dave Hayes with KTOX Radio.

Eyewitnesses say the men in the trucks had a military bearing, close cropped hair, but wore civilian clothes.

Ex-cop Frank Costigan says he chatted with one outside a grocery store, "He was wearing a shirt that said, ‘Nevada Test Site.' I said, ‘Exactly where is it?' and it never did dawn on me that it was Area 51. And then he says, ‘Area 51.'"

Back at the roadside encounter, the situation grew even tenser when one of the trucks pulled up beside us. A man got out, told us to produce some ID, so we asked him to first show us his.

The badge was from the NNSA, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the branch of the Department of Energy responsible for nuclear weapons. NNSA is a constant presence in Nevada, particularly at the test site, but it has a little known, elite component which doesn't interact with media.

"We're asking you to just stay out of our way, not interfere," said an agent.

What we stumbled upon was the OST, Office of Secure Transportation, the special unit created to transport nuclear weapons and weapons-grade material. Since its creation in 1975, its convoys have logged more than 110 million miles without any serious incidents, carrying the world's deadliest cargo right through cites like Las Vegas, and only a handful of people are in the know.
The 1,200 employees of OST do a few things very well, they drive, they shoot and they train.

Agents are mostly ex-military Special Forces -- combat hardened. They must pass rigorous background checks, psychological tests, and a grueling 21 week academy. They train 800 hours every year, in particular on weapons and tactics, preparing for anything they might encounter on the road, everything from drunk drivers to hijackers to terrorists.

"They are well capable and there are significant numbers of them on each shipment," said Flynn. "We train so we could use deadly force as necessary to protect those weapons."

Article here. Part two. Video news report available at the links as well. Eight hundred hours of training a year is a lot of training! That's the equivalent of over 15 hours a week! But given the nature of the cargo they babysit, and the potential consequences of that material falling into the wrong hands, a well-trained force is a very good thing.

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